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Hohner Big River MS vs Hohner Special 20

Hohner's Big River and Special 20 share some features, and it's not uncommon for harmonic player to wonder whether it's worth spending extra on the Special 20, when on paper it looks extremely similar to the slightly cheaper Big River. However, there are some key differences between the two harps, which are worth considering when deciding which one to buy.

At first glance the Big River and Special 20 seem quite similar, despite being part of different model lines. They are both Richter tuned diatonics that are manufactured in Germany and feature brass reeds and plastic combs. However, there are significant differences, which do influence the tone and feel of each harp. Let's take a look at these.

First and most importantly, perhaps, Special 20s have recessed reed plates, meaning that the reed plates are completely shielded from the player by the comb. This is one of the primary advantages of using a plastic comb, as it facilitates easier movement around the harmonica; especially important when playing rapid melody lines. You may wonder why the Big River doesn't feature this, given that it also employs a plastic comb. The answer lies in the modular nature of the MS series, to which the Big River belongs. Recessed combs are not usually possible on wood comb harps, and, as the Blues Harp, which is also from the MS line, features a doussie comb, parts would not be interchangeable between these harps (a core USP of the MS series) if the Big River featured Special 20 style recessed reed plates.

A second, slightly more subtle difference is evident in the intonation of the two harps. Both use compromised tuning, but the Special 20 is slightly closer to just intonation than the Big River, which veers closer to equal temperament. In practical terms, many players won't notice a significant difference, but there should be a marginal improvement in the purity of chords on the Special 20, whilst the Blues Harp should have slightly sweeter sounding single notes.

Ultimately, if you're on a tight budget, the Big River is a great harp for the money, and, when it is time to replace the reed plates, these will also be significantly less expensive than those for the Special 20. However, if you can justify the extra outlay, the Special 20's recessed comb makes quick movements around the mouthpiece much smoother (and, if you've got a beard, or sensitive skin, less painful).

Hohner Big River MS
Hohner Special 20 Harmonica
Harmonica NameHohner Big River MSHohner Special 20 Harmonica
Harmonica TypeDiatonic HarmonicaDiatonic Harmonica
Number of Holes1010
Comb MaterialPlasticPlastic
Number of Reeds2020
Spare Reeds Available?YesYes
Musical StylesBlues, Rock, Pop, FolkBlues, Rock, Pop, Folk
Available KeysA, B Flat, D, G, C, F, E, B, E Flat, D Flat, A FlatA, B Flat, D, G, C, F, E, B, E Flat, G High, F Sharp, D Flat, A Flat
Price from£28.29£33.99
View details & BuyView details & Buy
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